Associated Judicial Referral Services Blog

“My Experience is What I Agree to Pay Attention to” - William James

Posted by: Michael Taylor

“My Experience is What I Agree to Pay Attention to” - William James

My name is Michael Taylor. I have been a seminar facilitator/public speaker for 30 years, as of last August. Probably the most enduring theme of my life has been the relentless pursuit of finding answers to the question, “ Who am I?” My search has evolved and now centers on the exciting new discoveries that have been made in an area of brain science called neuroplasticity.  With the advent of neuroimaging technologies, scientists are now able to observe and demonstrate an unexpected and game-changing new reality. For the first time, it can be shown that something immaterial (thought) can change the physical structure of a material object (your brain). Definitive scientific proof of “mind over matter.” Even more astounding is the finding on the relatively short period of time it takes for these changes to begin to occur-days, instead of weeks. The practical benefit to you and I is that beyond any doubt, we are and can be accountable for our experience of life. You are not a victim of anything. As noted psychiatrist Dr. Alan Wheelis put it in his convincing short classic, How People Change, “We are what we do and may do what we choose.”

Today’s blog is the first of what will be an ongoing series of blogs in which I will be discussing the mind as a distinct essence, separate from the brain. I will discuss, among other things, how to use your mind to manage the impulses that the primitive…

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Negative Emotions Shrink your World - Positive Attitudes Expand it

Posted by: Michael Taylor

You can choose what you focus your attention on. That’s the good news. The bad news is that your brain is hardwired to pay more attention to negative emotions because negative emotions may signal a looming threat. There are studies that indicate that eighty percent of our initial thoughts and emotions have a negative tone. What’s more, you tend to pay more attention to the negative emotions, such as fear, anger and sadness, largely because they are stronger and seem more important to deal with. Trying to change an emotion or get over your current mood only serves to prolong it.  

That’s what you naturally tend to do, however, because you have fixed thousands of problems in real world by using your brain to solve them. It doesn’t work in matters of the mind though. When you focus on a negative state such as fear, it constricts your ability to see other options. The fear seems more powerful and threatening than it really is. If, when you first notice a fear arise, you are able to label it (e.g., “this is just fear, a distracting emotion”), the act of labeling the emotion will lessen its’ strength (see Matthew Lieberman, UCLA, labeling emotions). You can then refocus on a positive attitude or action that reflects “how you choose to be right now.” You may choose defiance, or maybe courage. No matter which positive attitude you choose, it will expand the possibilities that you see.  It will literally change…

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Pay Attention: Your Life Depends on It

Posted by: Michael Taylor

This attention grabbing phrase, that serves as a chapter title in Winifred Gallagher’s excellent book Rapt, illustrates an often under appreciated idea. The simple concept that the quality of your life, depends on what you choose to pay attention to. There are two basic ways of focusing your attention, that enable you to keep in touch with what is most important in your world. There is a passive, involuntary “bottom-up” attention. This way of focusing is not driven by you. It is hard-wired into your brain, through evolution and is an automatic reaction. It keeps you especially attuned to anything that suggests danger or reward. “Top-down” attention, is defined as the capacity to focus attention, shut out distractions, in service of an intended targeted action. Bottom-up attention “grabs your attention” automatically and top-down attention asks the question, “What do you want to concentrate on?” 

Attention’s fundamental mechanism is to clarify a target in your brain. “All day long, your reality develops from shifting the targets of your automatic and deliberate attention,” writes Gallagher. Focus-distraction-refocus again, needs to become accepted as a routine daily necessity. The battle for your attention is between your automatic focus and your chosen focus. It is a very real  “biased competition” in favor of what automatically occurs to you. According to neuroscientists John Duncan of Cambridge University and Robert Desimone of MIT, this biased competition “underscores the importance of your choices about what to attend to in constructing your daily…

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